First Black Female President-Elect at AAFP

Marcia Frellick

October 01, 2019

PHILADELPHIA — "You know, guys, this is historic," Ada Stewart, MD, said from the dais after the announcement that she is president-elect of the Association of American Family Physicians (AAFP).

Ada Stewart

Stewart — a family physician and HIV specialist with Cooperative Health in Columbia, South Carolina, and a self-professed "dreamer from the housing projects of Cleveland" — is the AAFP's first black female president-elect and the fourth woman in this role.

"I will be your voice and I will represent you well," she told the crowd after the cheers died down. "I will continue to promote the integrity of our specialty and be a strong advocate for our patients, our community, and our members."

During a candidate question-and-answer forum here at the AAFP 2019 Congress of Delegates, Stewart was asked what qualifications set her apart.

"I have been a leader in all phases of my professional development, from medical student, within this academy, and in the AMA," she replied, adding that she currently practices in the trenches in rural, urban, urgent, military, and hospice care settings.

I will be your voice and I will represent you well.

Stewart earned her bachelor's of science in pharmacy from Ohio Northern University and completed her medical degree at the Medical College of Ohio and her family medicine residency at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. She began her medical career as a National Health Service Corps scholar, caring for underserved patients in rural South Carolina. On her way to numerous leadership roles, she enlisted in the US Army Reserves after 9/11 and rose to the rank of colonel.

Asked about what she would do to reduce burnout, Stewart said she would encourage doctors to seek leadership opportunities.


"If you are a leader within that system, you have more control and autonomy," Stewart said.

She was also asked what family medicine should do to help with the opioid crisis.

"It is a public health problem occurring in all of our back yards," she said, and urged training in medication-assisted treatment for physicians and other providers.

"Also, we need to make sure we're reimbursed for this very issue," she added. "We need to make sure we have support when we're looking to get our other colleagues, our counselors and our psychologists within our practices, to be able to address this issue."

In her candidate speech, Stewart acknowledged the challenges ahead with a pledge to work toward moving family medicine forward: "Will we continue to struggle under a payment system that undervalues our services while payers tinker around the edges of a fee-for-service system? Will we overcome the weight of administrative burdens, the endless grind of prior authorization and checking boxes, or will we watch our colleagues burn out one by one?"

"This does not have to be our future," she told delegates.

"This is a wonderful accomplishment and the Cooperative Health family could not be more elated for Dr Stewart," said Eric Schlueter, MD, chief medical officer for that South Carolina organization.

"She is a champion for addressing health disparities and has emerged as a renowned expert in HIV and hepatitis C treatment, he told Medscape Medical News. "Her presence allows the undeserved to receive a level of care that is normally unobtainable for members of the communities we serve. I know that as president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr Stewart will further the mission of improving access to healthcare for all."

Stewart acknowledged the people who most inspired her.

"My parents, they passed away a long time ago from what I always say were the social determinants of health," she said. "Back then, we didn't talk about it as that, but without food, without transportation, without so many things in the community, healthcare was an issue."

Never Saw a Doctor but Became One

"I can tell you that years ago I never thought I would be a doctor," Stewart said. "I did not have that opportunity to really think about that because we never saw a doctor."

So "thank you to my patients," she added. "I always tell them I'm doing everything I do for them. They are my other family."

American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) 2019 Congress of Delegates. Presented September 25, 2019.

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